Perfect Storm

Posted on January 17, 2012


Bluebirds at Baker

NOTE:  Normally I don’t double post here and Facebook anymore, but since I was skiing with some friends I posted the whole superset there.

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In skiing there is a set of conditions called a “blue bird” day. This is a cloudless day following a storm cycle.  In heli-skiing they won’t even fly unless it’s blue bird, as they can’t see in the flat light to land. For us down here, it’s relatively rare, especially at Mt. Baker ski area, situated between Mt. Shuksan (supposedly the most photographed mountain in the world) and Mt. Baker. They get about 700″ of snow annually and in the 98-99 season set the world record for snowfall:  1,140″ (95 ft.) , with one month having over 304″. I skied there for probably a season before I even saw Mt. Baker in the distance. I thought it was completely in the other direction!

At any rate, Sunday was a blue bird day. 15″ the day before 5″ overnight. Seattle, typically, treated this like the first snow storm they had ever seen. When I left for dinner at my friends’ there was an inch of wet snow/rain on my street and I didn’t ever pretend I was coming home. I slept on their sofa, met my friends Bernard and Eric at a Park and Ride, and drove up going though several storm cells. There was snow low, always a good sign but it wasn’t until we got to the mountain that we got the big surprise: Baker was clear. You could see the storm down in the valley, but it never showed up.

Storm in the valley

On days like this, it can be really hard to tell what to do: shoot or ski? The low morning light was magical. While Bernard set up his first shots, I gave up first tracks to snap some pictures (I love you too, Eric).

Table Mountain

Which I later played with in B&W:

Table B&W

Look at the texture in that patch of snow under the peak. Yum! In fact Bernard and Eric skinned out there last run. (I don’t have a randonne set up, among other issues, so I couldn’t make that run.)
And Baker, herself:

The elusive Mt. Baker gives us a wink and a nod

By the way a couple of years ago, a bunch of snowshoers died in an avalanche in that relatively benign snow field with the tracks on it in the foreground. Yet, you still see groups of them out there every day without avy gear.

And then I looked up to see the marvelous golden light playing in these ancient trees above me.  I couldn’t quite capture it because of the blue light which is both magical and irritating after a while (one reason I deigned to play in B&W digital today. Blech.)

The eye of the hydra upon you

If I did use Photoshop, I would be excited about creating a digital negative to print. Instead I’m just kicking myself for not having my film camera, a polarizing filter, and a red filter. Of course, we weren’t expecting to shoot at all.

Because as good as color is, it ain’t that

Then I looked down, caught the art shot, to capture the ultimate blue essence of the experience.

And another landscape shot.

There’s a storm on the horizon, but a song in my heart

Oh, and this rock that I once jumped off of and probably should again sometime since I lost the picture.

And then, it was time to ski. There was more than the light that let me give up first tracks. I’ve been pretty sure I injured my ACL racing at Hood, right after I had surgery on it the first time. So, after a long day of heavy snow I don’t quit, but my knee quits. A couple of weeks ago I was playing goalie in indoor soccer, discovered you don’t slide so good on astroturf, and been in some, uh discomfort, ever since. I could do without another surgery at the moment and I’ve still been running and playing soccer so I was hoping I could ski. Two turns into it, my first of the year, and I was pretty sure my season was over.

Baker, blue bird skies, two friends who are training to ski in India (a trip I had to pass on), what do you do? Well, there is only one thing to do if you are only going to have one run this year: you head to the Hemispheres.  I talked about the Hemispheres in another post.

The Hemispheres

Imagine a 1000-foot tall ice cream sundae wedged between Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker where the horizon feels like it’s 10m away and you feel like you are going to ski into space at any minute (and can if you are not careful, took the biggest air of my life there off what I thought was a 2′ lip).

The mighty Shuksan as seen climbing the hemispheres

It’s about a 20-25 minute hike up a 45 degree face with 2′ steps. The boys skinned up, but I post-holed it. First day  skiing, but also my first day at altitude. I was winded. I toured around the peak and took some shots.

Shuksan detail

I can’t tell if I like color or B&W better here:

Baker detail

I fooled around with some stuff but didn’t have the polarizer or red filter to blacken out the blue sky (or film).

There were a lot of people on the summit and where it wasn’t packed down, snow was up to your waist. I walked all around the group trying to get shots for a panorama, which I’ve never tried before and I knew I wasn’t going to get very good results as I was up and down, different exposures, etc.

A few more:
When I got home I did a search for free panorama software only to find out on Ken Rockwell’s awesome site that every single version of  Canon digital camera comes with panoramic software, as does Irfanview, and that Microsoft Research has excellent free software, too. I had to break this up.  Originally I did the full 270 degree view and it was 22′ long! Yikes.

We skied down and I took some pictures of the skiers which I posted on Facebook. But the wait for the set up in the 19F temps got me so cold that I was essentially skiing down with no feeling in my feet. Combine that with icy moguls on the bottom and a tender knee, and I was done for the day.

While the boys went out into the drainage, I got cleaned and grabbed this last shot, it lasts but a moment and my camera was packed in the car, so I missed the critical second:


Which Bernard caught on Shuksan. I couldn’t see it behind the trees where I was. Boy would I have killed to be able to haul 40lbs of medium format gear up that hill.

Posted in: Outings, Photography